Above BMWs 330d oozes with style without needing to
shout. Above right Specify the 330d
with the M-package, and it will suggest more aggression than
the 3·0-litre diesel delivers. Bottom The BMW 123d
feels like a modern interpretation of the 2002 Tii.
WHEN I POSTED
an old photograph of a BMW 2002 to
my Facebook, I received a lot of comments. A Californian friend
who used to own one, saying that the essence had been lost in all
but the latest BMW 1er-Reihe. A German
friend whose family had one in her childhood. Another who remembered
the pleasure he got from driving it. There’s arguably no other early
BMW that elicits such responses, either
because the 1970s now seem far enough away for everyone to look
back at the era fondly, or because the 2002 was truly a great car,
head and shoulders above the rest.
It was certainly a timeless car. The lines could be
traced back to the BMW 1500 of the
1960s—a.k.a. the car that turned a failing German manufacturer around.
Had it not been for the 1500, BMW
might have wound up a subsidiary of some other German firm. It delivered
a formula that BMW is known for, which
is the same formula that put Jaguar on the map with the Mark II
and more recently Subaru with the Impreza: a compact saloon, with
an excellent, high-performance engine.
The 2002 Tii and 2002 Turbo were the pinnacle of that
line, an accessible sporting saloon and a way-out sports car with
a newfangled turbocharger. BMW followed
up the Neue Klasse 02s with the 3er-Reihe, which has a similarly
mythical history if one looks at the first 323i and M3, but it doesn’t
have the same fondness.
But the new 330d is the successor to this line, a two-door
coupé—BMW abandoned the saloon
tag for the two-door a couple of decades ago—that has a stylish,
low roof, the Hofmeister-knick in the C-pillar, and the pedigree
of those overpowered compact cars.
Except these days, it’s not so compact. Nor is it overpowered.
The white 330d is a diesel, with a turbocharger, which means it
delivers 245 PS without issue, but the power comes on stream gently
if that’s the way you drive. Be more senseless and the power is
there, but it makes very little fuss about it. Like the 335d saloon
which Lucire tested last year, the BMW
wears its claim to Efficient Dynamics proudly. BMW’s
system of using braking energy to charge the battery and being as
kind to the environment as possible means the 330d emits 151 g/km
of carbon dioxide. In the 2010s, an overrevving coupé just
seems out of touch, and so much of the car is geared to reinforcing
the mantra of efficiency as possible.
On that note, the 330d coupé was returning roughly
37 mpg around town, with a great deal of slow motoring. I noted
that it bettered some far smaller cars from the 1990s. Unlike the
larger 5er, there’s no way to alter the analogue l/100 km gauge
on the clear and functional dashboard to Imperial, though many of
the usual sat-nav and phone functions were available in the Idrive
The driving position is excellent, as one can expect
from any BMW 3er. Handling still outclasses
its Audi and Mercedes-Benz rivals, with a safe, rear-wheel-drive
push—with one knowing that there is more potential beyond the limit
of the traction control if one wanted to switch it off.
But, the important question must be asked in a fashion
title: how stylish is the conveyance from A to B? In short, very.
Even if one did not specify the M package, which gave
our test car extra panache and an outwardly upscale look, there’s
no shortage of style from the 330d.
While it’s questionable whether the 1500 or 2002 spirit
truly lives on, you do get a great sense of pride driving the 330d.
I take the point that the regular saloon has become common to the
point of invisibility, but there’s still something special about
that lowered roofline, taking us back to those 2002 days. But the
high-revving “vroom” factor that was once there has been replaced
with a turn-of-the-decade sensibility about careful energy usage
The 330d is a coupé for our times, blending
the best of fuel economy and style. In another 30 years’ time, this
may be the sort our children will talk about: remember when BMWs
were efficient, sensible and stylish, rather than being overpowered
on a hydrogen fuel cell?
But for those seeking the sort of punch that the 2002
Tii delivered, it’s the 135i (also tested last year) that will deliver.
And not, as we discovered, the 123d.
Again, when specified with the M option package, the
123d is every bit the little brother of the 135i. The outside observer
will easily make a connection between the blistering 306 PS
135i and the 123d. He might think it’s a Q-car and dare not take
you on at the lights.
Not that it’s lacking in the power department, either:
204 PS, 400 Nm of torque. It’s the
diesel engine that lacks that wonderful sound, even though, in this
lighter car, the power feels more urgent than in the 330d. The 123d
is a simpler car, without the pop-up Idrive of the 3 on our test
car, which means that much more of your concentration is kept on
the driving experience.
Being on the same chassis as the 135i, it’s a capable
handler as well as a decent cruiser, and, behind the wheel, hits
more of the sweet spots in the driving experience than the 330d.
Those seeking something closer to the 2002s of old could do worse,
and getting 42 mpg is nothing to be sneezed at.
Even styling-wise, it will be instantly familiar to
the 2002 lovers. The lower half of the body still apes the 1er saloon,
with its “flame surfacing”, albeit with aggressive wheel arches,
but the upper half is a tidier, modern interpretation of what had
gone before. But it’s almost too upright in the 2010s context:
in an era when even humble hatchbacks like the Opel
Astra and the Renault
Mégane have sporty counterparts with sleeker rooflines.
What we really need, then, is a car that combines the
sleek, pleasurable lines of the larger 3, with the satisfying driving
experience and economy of the 1.
At a guess, it’s the 335d coupé: a car we haven’t
yet tested, though we have sampled the saloon. You feel the extra
41 PS in the 335d, though it comes
with a 24 g/km penalty on the carbon emissions. Drive it carefully
enough, however, and the environmentally conscious side of you might
still be satiated. And should you put your foot down, the power
will come with a little more glory, on what remains one of the best
chassis in the compact executive market. •
You get a great sense of pride driving the 330d:
theres still something special about
that lowered rooﬂine, taking us back to those 2002 days. But the
high-revving vroom factor that was once there has been
with a turn-of-the-decade sensibility about careful energy usage
Jack Yan is publisher of Lucire.